Residents of a historic retirement home for war veterans filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday against Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, asserting that the Pentagon chief has imposed excessive and illegal cutbacks in on-site medical and dental services.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of the nearly 1,000 residents at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, one of two such institutions managed by the Defense Department.
In their complaint, the home’s residents said Mr. Rumsfeld has a ready remedy for the financial problems that led to the cutbacks in services and staffing, but he has chosen not to act.
They said Congress gave the Pentagon authority in 1994 to increase one source of the home’s operating funds — a 50-cent-per-month payroll deduction paid by every enlisted member and warrant officer in the military. Raising it to $1 per month would generate $7 million a year in new revenue, the lawsuit says.
The Pentagon declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The retirement home’s operating costs are borne mainly by a trust fund and by monthly fees paid by its residents. Other sources of revenue are the fines and forfeitures levied upon members of the active-duty military in judicial proceedings.
The lawsuit also named as a defendant the Pentagon official who manages the home, Timothy Cox.
By law, the Armed Forces Retirement Homes, in Washington and in Gulfport, Miss., must provide ?on-site primary care, medical care and a continuum of long-term care services.? In an April 27, 2004, letter to the residents group that was pushing for a reversal of cutbacks, Mr. Cox asserted that the reduced level of services was in compliance with the law, the lawsuit said.
A spokesman for the group, Homer C. Rutherford, a retired Air Force senior master sergeant who has lived at the home for three years, said he had appealed to staff members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees to address the problem, but to no avail.
?This is why we’re following through with this class-action suit,? he said. ?We feel we have nowhere else to go, and we feel that it is something that is vitally necessary for the health and welfare of the American veterans who are here at the home.?
Among the cutbacks cited by Mr. Rutherford and other residents are the closing in 2003 of the home’s main clinic and an on-site pharmacy, elimination of on-site X-ray and electrocardiogram services and reductions in annual physicals as well as the number of on-site dentists.
The retirement home, previously known as the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, was opened in 1851 for wounded and disabled war veterans. Four of the original buildings are still standing and are registered as national historic landmarks.
Veterans can live there if they are 60 or older and have served on active duty for at least 20 years. Also eligible are veterans unable to earn a living because of a service-related disability or whose disability is not service-related but who served in a war zone.